The Title "Queen of the Open Boat" is up for Grabs

“Hand on heart, we’ve never had such an eventful Dove Tour!” Janet said, as we walked towards the pub, afterwards. I haven’t been on one before so I really couldn’t judge it for myself. I did have a lot of fun, though, and I got to know the river much better than I’d been expecting to.

We have been to the Dove tour before. I haven’t been able to go, if only I’d known what I was missing!

The tour is terribly well organised. We weren’t. We met, as usual at the canoe club at about 7 am. I say about. I expect if anyone ever did a proper scientific study they would find that about 9.3% of the party usually arrive about ten minutes before the appointed hour. There would then be a typical bell-jar curve distribution of arrivals, most falling a little after the appointed time. 9.3% will arrive at about ten minutes after the appointed with a further 9.3% trailing out to half an hour late. The last two 9.3%s are usually Tess and Janet, in that order.

We heard the admonishments against faffing around and ignored them as we sorted out which boats to put on which cars. Then we changed our minds and moved them around again. Finally we set off and arrived in Burton just in time to buy coffee and breakfasts at a fast food outlet. This was an important stop. Without it we would not have had the distinction of catching the very last shuttle bus back from the parking area at the end.

We gathered together at the get in and found that we were a good sized group. We had three opens, led by Roger and Jodi, Tess and Dawn, and Andy and Janet. The kayaks of Paul, Brian, Dave and Dave were augmented by Mark, Jacqui and Glen who had travelled independently. Spirits were high when we finally made it onto the water. The current was flowing strongly and progress was really good. For a long time the biggest excitement was an enormous insect that crept up Mark’s face and took refuge in his helmet. Then we reached a bridge.

There was a tree across the main span of the bridge with a tricky tight turn into the fast flowing current to its right. As we watched a sea kayak pinned on the end of the tree, looking scarily as it it was going to tip upstream but then someone paddled in and they were away and through. A kayaker gave us an authoritative wave towards the right hand side and I lined the boat up, digging the paddle in deep as we approached the tree, trying hard to drive us past. I failed it. A branch from the tree hit me squarely in the chest driving me over the side of the boat.

As I surfaced I looked anxiously for Dawn and she had popped up in front of me as we swirled away through on a strong flow. I called out instructions. We took hold of the painters and began to swim towards the bank. Within a few metres a convenient mud slipway opened up on our right and we soon beached the boat.

We were fine, if chilly. We headed up the bank and began to empty the water of our sealed dry trouser legs. Before long Dave W came swimming in to join us too. As the rest of the crew gathered by us their delight at me swimming became infectious. With Jacquie and Brian’s help we soon had our kit together and were back on the water.

Things went well for us all until we got to the first weir at about half way. Then they went swimmingly. You can’t see much from the back seat of an open boat as you approach a weir. Brian’s signals meant that we nailed the line. Sadly we didn’t nail the landing. I couldn’t really believe and I’m not sure it endeared me to my paddling partner that I surfaced laughing. I saw a kayak going after dawn so I took hold of my salvage line and started to swim it in. I heard a shout of “Tess!” and looked towards the bank. A throw line dropped nicely into reach and Dave from Hinckley swung me in to shallow water. I took up the strain and my boat and kit swung in below.  I’m pretty sure I saw at least one other member of our party swim in, but I’m concentrating on embarrassing myself in this report.

We were definitely cold. It needed to be a short lunch stop. I bought an emergency shelter about ten years ago. I’ve carried it on trips ever since. This time we needed it. We rushed through lunch, found more layers, shook and sprayed hot drinks over each other (and Jacquie, who was adding her body heat to the shelter and sharing more warm layers with Dawn). Emerging, I sorted the boat. The RLSCC party was definitely in a jolly mood. I know my swims had something to do with it. I’m a big girl, I can take it.

Back on the water we worked hard to build up body warmth and the second half of the trip built up pace. We went from being the back boat to being one of the front ones. It didn’t feel terribly long before we arrived at the next weir. Dawn was clear about our tactics for this one. I was on my own. I have to confess to a little nervousness as I readied myself on the central line. It was a lovely sloping face into some impressive standing waves and the boat took them all beautifully. My confidence hauled itself back up a notch and Dawn rejoined me for the next stretch. I was chatting to Steve, an open paddler from Burton who turned out to be the sweeper boat. It was probably my fault we were at the back.

Approaching the final weir I sought advice from the expert. Dawn made what had become the obvious, sensible decision and walked. I followed Steve. My boat slid out of the weir lip perfectly under control. The bow dropped and took the water as planned and the next thing I knew I was swimming. I was told afterwards that they knew I was in the water because they could hear me giggling. There are positives: I’m now really good at using the salvage lines on my boat to swim myself to safety and pull the boat in after.

The last stretch of river was paddled quite hard. We needed the effort and all the chocolate we could scrounge to keep warm. Roger needed to watch the deciding six nations match.

I learnt a lot from the day. I learnt that pride really does come before a fall. I have owned that boat for 15 years and before the trip had only fallen out of it once. The tally is now four. I learnt that however long have been paddling and coaching you always have more to learn. I will be turning to Penny’s open boat sessions with a humbler attitude. I have learnt that doing it badly can be just as much fun as doing it well. On the walk in to the pub, I really had to agree with Janet – it was one of my most entertaining days paddling ever.


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